On February 8, 2011, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) released a report calling upon Congress to stop purchasing and consuming bottled water. The CAI report contains many false and misleading statements about bottled water.
This is not a Tap Water Versus Bottled Water Issue
The report incorrectly and unnecessarily suggests that this is a tap water versus bottled water issue. However, most people who drink bottled water also drink tap water, depending on the circumstances. Consumers choose bottled water for several reasons, including taste, quality, and convenience. Bottled water is also an alternative to other packaged beverages when consumers want to eliminate or moderate calories, caffeine, sugar, artificial flavors or colors, alcohol and other ingredients from their diets. At a time when obesity, diabetes and heart disease are so prevalent, the consumption of water, whether from the bottle or the tap, is a good thing, and any actions, such as CAI’s report, that discourage people from drinking bottled water are not in the public’s interest.
IBWA Supports a Strong Municipal Water System
IBWA supports the maintenance and improvement of a strong and stable U.S. water infrastructure, which is critical for providing citizens with clean and safe drinking water. Primary responsibility for such maintenance and improvement belongs to water utilities and their customers, which should be self sustaining through rates that treat all users equitably. IBWA supports a long-term, sustainable federal commitment to support water infrastructure investments through mechanisms such as the state revolving fund and providing access to low cost or no cost capital for water infrastructure improvements.
Bottled Water is not Just Tap Water in a Bottle
The report suggests that bottled water from a municipal source is just tap water in a bottle. That is not the case. Once the municipal source water enters the bottled water plant several processes are employed to ensure that it meets the purified or sterile standard of the U.S. Pharmacopeia 23rd Revision. These treatments can include reverse osmosis, distillation, or de-ionization. The finished water product is then placed in a bottle under sanitary conditions and sold to the consumer.
An Important Call for Americans to Drink More Water
Only one week before this report was made public, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services issued their 2010 dietary guidelines, which recommend that Americans should drink more water. Despite the public interest that is served by encouraging all citizens to drink more water — be it tap, bottled or filtered – CAI and other activists continue to make the false assertion that “bottled water is unnecessary” and the consumption of bottled water is somehow responsible for, and incompatible with, a strong municipal water system in the United States.
The Regulation and Safety of Bottled Water
The CAI report falsely states that bottled water “is in fact less regulated than tap water… .” In fact, Bottled water is a safe, healthy, and convenient packaged food product, which is comprehensively regulated at both the federal and state level. At the federal level, bottled water must comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) (21 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq.) and several parts of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Section 410 of FFDCA requires that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) bottled water regulations be as protective of the public health as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tap water standards.
Bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, ultraviolet (UV) light or other safe and effective methods. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system may be effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination.
IBWA Supports a Consumer’s Right to Know What is in Their Bottled Water
The CAI report calls for a congressional investigation of the bottled water industry to improve transparency and disclosure practices. Bottled water companies are not hiding information or keeping it secret. In fact, IBWA supports a consumer’s right to clear, accurate and comprehensive information about the bottled water products they purchase.
All packaged foods and beverage products, including bottled water, have extensive labeling requirements, including a statement of the type of water that is in the container, compliance with the applicable definitions in the Standards of Identity, ingredient labeling, name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor and, if required, nutrition labeling. In addition, almost all bottled water products also have a phone number and/or website address on the label. This contact information allows consumers to get any additional information that they may want that might not already be on the label. This might include the source, treatment, and quality information.
Disclosures, such as those required by EPA in Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR) for public water systems, are not required of any food or beverage product. These products must meet the safety standards and must be manufactured according to FDA regulations. However, bottled water companies voluntarily provide consumers with access to information about their products. Consumers have multiple choices in brands of bottled water. That is not the case with their public water system. Consumers cannot make a choice of which municipal water is piped into their homes. If a bottled water company does not satisfy a consumer’s request for more information, that consumer can, and should, choose another brand.
The 2000 FDA Feasibility Study Report (65 Fed. Reg. § 51836 (2000)) looked at various ways that bottled water information could be communicated to consumers, including company contact information on the label, placing specific contaminant and other information on the label, distributing pamphlets at the point of purchase and providing information via the internet. IBWA agrees with the FDA’s conclusion that placing all of the information contained in the CCRs provided by public water systems on bottled water labels is not feasible. FDA concluded that:
“We agree with comments that stated it is not feasible to provide all of the information that is analogous to that contained in a CCR on a bottled water label. Such information would be excessive in limited label space, particularly on the small, single serving bottles. In addition, information that requires frequent changes due to changing test results may result in a misbranded product. Costs of frequent label changes that are necessary to ensure accurate information on the contents of a bottled water product, due to frequently changing information, may present an economic hardship to companies. Moreover, even annual updates that represent the contaminant history would need information to put the history for all such CCR-type information in context for the consumer and would be excessive in limited label space.”
FDA Jurisdiction Over Bottled Water and FDA Recall Authority
The “Tapping Congress” report repeats the completely false claim that “FDA also has little or no jurisdiction over the 60 percent of bottled water bottled and consumed within a single state, nor does the agency have the direct authority to require bottlers to recall products that could be at risk for contamination.”
FDA’s jurisdiction over bottled water products (and any other product regulated by FDA) extends not only to those products that move in interstate commerce, but to those products sold within a single state that are enclosed in packaging materials that have moved in interstate commerce. Known as the component theory of FDA jurisdiction, courts have long held that if any component of a food product moves in interstate commerce, FDA has jurisdiction over the finished product, regardless of whether the finished product itself moves in interstate commerce. (E.g., United States v. An Article of Food, 752 F.2d 11 (1st Cir. 1985) In the case of bottled water, if the plastic used in the bottles, the plastic used in the caps, the paper and ink used on the labels, any outer packaging materials, and even the water itself comes from out of state, then FDA has jurisdiction over that product. And in today’s commercial society, that will almost always be the case. Congress has recognized this fact by enacting a law that expressly presumes that all food and beverage products are sold in interstate commerce. (21 U.S.C. § 379 (a))
CAI claims that FDA does not have recall authority over bottled water. The Food Safety and Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011, gives FDA direct recall authority for all food products, including bottled water. Under the new law, FDA can issue a mandatory recall for any incident that involves serious adverse health consequences or death (Class I Recall).
Overstating the Use of Oil
The “Tapping Congress” report falsely alleges that producing bottled water consumes “54 million barrels of oil each year.” That statement demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how plastic containers are made. Most commercial plastic materials in the United States are derived from oil by-products leftover from gasoline production. The sticky solids that remain from oil refining are literally recycled into pellets that are melted and formed into plastic materials. It is misleading to state or imply that virgin barrels of oil are dedicated to making plastic bottles.
The Bottled Water Industry Has a Strong Commitment to Recycling and the Environment
According to the U.S. EPA, bottled water containers amount to only 1/3 of one percent of the U.S. waste stream. Of equal significance, bottled water in PET plastic containers are recycled at a rate of 31 percent, double the rate of only five years ago. Overall, the EPA reports in 2009, only 7 percent of all plastic materials were recycled. Although our recycling rate is not as high as the bottled industry strives for, we are proud to be an industry leader in PET plastic recycling.
Bottled water companies have for many years been taking actions to reduce their environmental footprint. For example, the bottled water industry is using much lighter weight plastics for its containers. Over the past eight years the gram weight of the 16.9 ounce “single serve” PET bottled water container has dropped by 32.6%. (BMC Report, February 2010) The average PET bottled water container weighed 18.9 grams in 2000 and by 2008 the average amount of PET resin in each bottle has declined to 12.7 grams. BMC estimated that during this time span, more than 1.3 billion grams of PET resin has been saved by the bottled water industry through container light-weighting.
The bottled water industry is also developing new technologies in product packaging, such as the use of recycled content, biodegradable and compostable materials, and is utilizing more fuel efficient means of transportation.
Bottled Water Sales Grew in 2010
In its report, CAI claims that its anti-bottled water activities have caused bottled water sales to decrease during the past two years. In 2008 and 2009, the United States endured an unprecedented recession affecting most industries and consumers. During that timeframe, bottled water’s sales did decrease. However, now that the economy is showing signs of improvement, bottled water sales have rebounded. Preliminary figures for 2010 indicates bottled water sales grew by 4.5 percent at the retail level, which demonstrates that is was the recession and not CAI’s activities that was responsible for the temporary drop in bottled water sales.
The Economic Impact of Bottled Water
In addition to producing a safe, healthy packaged beverage, the bottled water industry supports our nation’s economy. In 2009, the bottled water industry was responsible for as much as $130 billion in total economic activity and generated over $12.7 billion in property, income and sales taxes in the U.S. (John Dunham and Associates, New York, 2009). Companies that produce, distribute and sell bottled water products in the U.S. employ as many as 163,000 people and generate an additional 530,000 jobs in supplier and ancillary industries. These include jobs in companies supplying goods and services to bottled water manufacturers, distributors and retailers, as well as those that depend on sales to workers in the bottled water industry. Not only does the manufacture of bottled water create good jobs in the U.S., but the industry also contributes to the economy as a whole.
Furthermore, a healthy percentage of the U.S. bottled water industry is made up of small businesses, with annual sales of $1-10 million and around 10 employees. Many bottlers are local family entrepreneurs with deep roots and strong ties within their community.
Bottled Water is There When We Need It
Bottled water is not only there when you want it, but it is also always there when you need it. The U.S. bottled water industry has a long history in the U.S. of coming to the aid of those in distress during incidents when hurricanes, floods, fires and other events have prevented municipal water systems from providing clean, safe drinking water. We are often the first responders to these events, acting as a backup for compromised public water systems. For bottled water to be available in emergency situations there must also be a viable commercial marketplace that supports its production. Reducing the commercial viability of bottled water could seriously threaten its availability during emergency situations, and laws and actions which negatively target bottled water are an ironic disservice to and poor public policy for an industry that is called upon every year to provide crucial drinking water throughout the U.S.